Winning the battle for gay rights
I'm late to the discussion over Proposition 8. I've been following the news, digesting the defeat, tempering my emotions, and articulating my thoughts. But as a bisexual ex-Mormon living in the heart of Mormondom (Utah), I feel compelled to break my peace and make a foray into the issue. So here goes.
The LGBT community endured an emotional roller coaster on Election Day. One moment, they were assured "Yes we can!" The next, with the passage of Proposition 8, they were told "Um, no you can't." They are still suffering from that whiplash.
Over the past week and a half, that pain has manifested itself as anger (and understandably so) toward those who supported Proposition 8—particularly the LDS Church.
The LDS Church has been quick to note that they were not alone in supporting Proposition 8—they were party to a coalition of hundreds of churches*. Point taken. There were admittedly many culprits: the majority of older voters and black voters, a dishonest YES campaign, an inept NO campaign—all these contributed to and share some blame for Proposition 8's passage. But this ignores the fact that the LDS Church and its members were undoubtedly the most influential backers of Proposition 8, donating nearly half of the YES campaign's $23 million dollars and canvassing across the state of California. Jeff Flint, a strategist with Protect Marriage, estimated that Mormons made up 80 percent to 90 percent of the early volunteers who walked door-to-door in election precincts.
Given the church's extensive involvement in Proposition 8, it's not at all surprising that there have been worldwide protests at their temples and church-houses. But Mormons have cried foul. "It is disturbing that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is being singled out for speaking up as part of its democratic right in a free election," wrote Kim Farah, the spokeswoman for the LDS Church and (incidentally) my neighbor.
"While those who disagree with our position on Proposition 8 have the right to make their feelings known, it is wrong to target the Church and its sacred places of worship for being part of the democratic process."
Did the LDS Church think it could help deprive people their marriage rights with immunity? Protests are the price the church paid to exercise their First Amendment rights and participate in our democratic process. The church didn't have to stick its nose in Californian affairs. If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
That said, I do have some reservations about the recent spate of protests. The LGBT community and its allies are upset, and I think it's wholly appropriate for them to communicate the profound pain wrought by Proposition 8. But I fear that the protests will prove counterproductive—especially those protests targeting Mormon temples and church-houses. They play into Mormon prejudices about homosexuals and feed their martyrdom complex.
Mormons are no strangers to persecution. Indeed, persecution strokes their identity as a "peculiar people" (their phrase). And it will only strengthen Mormon resolve against what they perceive to be threats to their religion, like gay rights.
Also, an angry unfocused response to Proposition 8 invites irresponsible behavior and speech. Just a few days ago, for example, some punk mailed suspicious white powder to two LDS temples. It's too soon to tell who did it or why (perhaps Prop 8 opponents are just being framed), but such actions must be swiftly and forcefully condemned regardless.
Signs like "Keep your cult out of the culture wars" and "F**k you, bigots!" aren't helpful either. If they do anything, they just make our calls for tolerance ring hollow.
Now, I don't think violence or vitriol typify the protests. But sadly, that is what's making the news.
The protests are making it easier for the Mormons to claim that they are the real victims, not the homosexuals whose marriage rights they helped rob. No matter how poor the LDS Church's public image is, we cannot allow this debate to be framed as a religious liberties issue. We'll lose. Time and time again.
Remember that the public opinion turned in favor of Proposition 8 only when the YES campaign dishonestly claimed that homosexuality would be thrust upon Californians in their churches and in their children's schools. In other words, the YES campaign effectively painted the opponents of Proposition 8 as invasive and intolerant—they made us the bad guys.
At the same time, however, we cannot let up on pressuring the LDS Church. Bowing to pressures—both internal and external—in the past, the church gave up polygamy and the priesthood ban for blacks. What exactly a measured and effective amount of pressure would be, though, I don't know. But I do know what it's not: http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2008-11/43235098.jpg
There are already legal challenges to Proposition 8. The ACLU has filed a lawsuit claiming that a mere amendment is not adequate to strip people of what the California Constitution says is a "fundamental right"—marriage. A revision is required to strike the "fundamental right" language, and that takes a 2/3rds vote by citizens of California.
Don't invest too much in this lawsuit, though. From my understanding, the ACLU's case is shaky and the California Supreme Court has rejected the "revision" argument in other cases.
Glenn Greenwald thinks there's another answer to Proposition 8: A repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Repealing DOMA would "enable the equal granting of federal rights to same-sex couples without having any effect on the definition of marriage." Unlike the ACLU lawsuit, this isn't a direct challenge to Proposition 8. But a repeal of DOMA would give gay rights activists a much-needed and well-deserved victory. Thankfully, Obama has committed to at least amending DOMA.
These legal and political approaches to gay rights are fine so long as they are coupled with grassroots efforts. That might mean the occasional protest. Protests get our voices heard, which is important. But they rarely get our voices listened to. Gay rights advocates need to work on building bridges of dialogue. Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to destroy your enemy is to make him your friend."
I hope I haven't been a downer; I'm really quite optimistic for the future. Equal rights will win out eventually. We (LGBT persons and allies) are on the winning side not only of an argument, but of history also.
Just half a century ago, the LDS Church and most of society opposed interracial marriage. In 1947, the First Presidency (the Mormon prophet and his two counselors) stated: "The intermarriage of the Negro and White races [is] a concept which has heretofore been most repugnant to most normal-minded people from the ancient patriarchs till now…We are not unmindful of the fact that there is a growing tendency…toward the breaking down of race barriers in the matter of intermarriage between whites and blacks, but it does not have the sanction of the Church and is contrary to Church doctrine.**"
You know, for a church that claims to be protecting marriage, the LDS Church sure has a difficult time defining what exactly it is defending. One man, many women? One white man, one white woman? One man, one woman? The church's definition of marriage has changed over time and with each revision it inches toward a recognition of gay marriage.
Progress, while hard-fought, is the natural arc of human history. And those institutions anchored in the past will drown with the rising tide of tomorrow.
If you are interested in the history of Mormon anti-gay policies and rhetoric, check out this link: http://www.affirmation.org/learning/anti-gay.shtml
I have also written about certain anti-gay policies at Brigham Young University: http://secweb.infidels.org/?kiosk=articles&id=764
Or here if you're a Facebook friend of mine: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=2210651499&id=122802902&index=39
And finally, my thoughts about gay rights more generally: http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=16672101499&id=122802902&index=4
*According to recently leaked memos, LDS Church joined the coalition to have it serve as a cover. The LDS Church said that they want to take an activist approach against gay marriage, but was reluctant to be "out front." The church had the money, but recognized that "the public image of the Catholic Church [was] higher than [their] church." The LDS Church's alliance with the Catholic Church is yet another oddity in this whole affair, as historically Mormons have vilified the Catholic Church as "the whore of Babylon" and "the great and abominable church."
**Even that ignorant statement represented progress over what Brigham Young (the second Mormon prophet) taught: "Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so." (Journal of Discourses, 10:110)